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University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy - Rockford
Going Gold for the #MoreThan4 campaign: Student Pharmacist Awareness and Clinical Empathy in the Field of Pediatric Oncology
by William P. Clafshenkel, PhD, P2, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy President-elect, Rockford Student Campus
One in 285 children will be diagnosed with cancer by the time they are twenty years old.1,2 Do you know someone whose life has been affected by pediatric cancer? Take this moment to get to know Sean Fredella and the #MoreThan4 campaign he has started.3 As a sixteen-year-old, Sean recounts the seemingly insurmountable challenges that he faced earlier in his life. He was diagnosed with cancer four times over the course of seven and half years. After extensive medical treatments, including a bone marrow transplant, he has become a cancer survivor and an out-spoken advocate of pediatric cancer awareness. Unfortunately, many children like Sean will not survive.
Cancer is the number one cause of death from disease among children.4 There are over 12 major types of pediatric cancer, with the incidence continuing to rise each year.5 While the National Cancer Institute promotes innovated cancer research, it is estimated that just 4% of their annual budget is allocated to childhood cancer.4 Childhood cancers cannot be treated like adult cancers given their often different origins, molecular targets, and weak correlation to lifestyle or environmental risk factors. Furthermore, treatment modalities and responses are unique in children when compared to adults.
Despite being worlds apart, our ICHP chapter wanted to champion Sean’s cause. Since September was Pediatric Cancer Awareness month, we wanted to share Sean’s story with our students and faculty. Not only did we want to raise awareness about pediatric cancers, but we wanted to remind student pharmacists that treating cancer involves understanding the impact cancer has on social and psychological aspects. Understanding the theory and practice underlying oncology is only part of the equation; an essential linchpin for pharmacist-patient interactions is clinical empathy. We felt that Sean’s story could serve as an empowering point of reflection for student pharmacists by giving them the opportunity to understand and share Sean’s internal perspective. Recognizing and appreciating this internal perspective moves us beyond mere sympathy for a situation and into the realm of “what can I do to help?”.
On an early morning in late September, our chapter set up a small table in our school’s main lobby with flyers containing pediatric cancer statistics, cupcakes adorned with #MoreThan4 decorations, gold ribbons, and a #MoreThan4 selfie frame. We shared Sean’s story between snapshots and bites of food. We pondered the considerations pharmacists must make when treating cancer in a pediatric population. We fielded questions regarding statistics and research endeavors. We promoted our role as pharmacists in the future of cancer medicine. More importantly, we were grateful for the donations we collected for Bear Necessities, a non-profit pediatric cancer foundation helping to fuel pediatric cancer research and treatment that is headquartered in Chicago.
As future pharmacists, some of us may decide to be part of integrated health care teams comprised of physicians and nurses that specialize in pediatric oncology. Organizations such as ICHP give us a platform to expose student pharmacists to events like the #Morethan4 campaign and Sean Fredella’s story. We hope that our actions this past September, and those in the future, continue to develop student pharmacists’ clinical empathy. Moreover, we hope to inspire both students and pharmacists to conquer devastating diseases such as pediatric cancer through novel research, compassionate patient interactions, and advocacy.